basketball Edit

UNC takes advantage of too many second chances against Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The topic was rebounding and Mike Brey had the stat sheet in his hand in the post-game press conference.

“...Twenty-three of them … Whew…”

Looked like it almost took his breath away to see it in print.

But it was every bit as hard to witness first-hand, especially when just one of those North Carolina offensive rebounds going the other way could have altered the outcome for Notre Dame in a 63-59 loss Wednesday night in front of 8,183 — a good number decked out in Carolina blue and Jordan jerseys — in Purcell Pavilion.

For those keeping a tally, the Irish have lost five Atlantic Coast Conference games by one possession and now 10 games by single digits.

“It's just been a hard year,” said Brey, whose Notre Dame coaching career is down to a handful of games. “They come in and compete. And I give our seniors credit that they're coming in and like, ‘We're going to do this again (play hard).’”


North Carolina's RJ Davis, center, tries to get between Notre Dame's Trey Wertz, left, and Matt Zona.
North Carolina's RJ Davis, center, tries to get between Notre Dame's Trey Wertz, left, and Matt Zona. (AP Photo/Michael Caterina)

Notre Dame (10-18, 2-15 ACC) has been defensively challenged all year and came in ranked 317th in the country in field goal defense at 46.6%.

So it was especially hard for Brey to watch his defense get a stop, then need another on the same possession, and another, and another …

The taller, stronger Tar Heels hit you with one of college’s best in 6-11 senior Armando Bacot, along with 6-11 grad student Pete Nance and 6-9 grad student Leaky Black. Tall, strong, long and experienced — a combination that produced a 23-9 edge in second-chance points and 34-26 edge in the paint as the Irish managed only eight offensive rebounds.

The Irish often had block-out position and still couldn’t hold off the onslaught in the lane. The total rebound tally ended 52-33 in favor of Carolina, a 17-11 team (9-8 in the ACC) that needs a big late-season surge to get into the NCAA Tournament field after starting the season ranked No. 1.

Bacot and Caleb Love each finished with 16, a point under their averages.

“I thought we defended fabulously, and you know they're gonna get to the backboard because they're athletic as heck,” Brey said. “And they got a couple of put-backs that really hurt us.”

There were critical points throughout the second half after the Irish cashed in an eight-point halftime lead in a matter of minutes into the second half.

The Tar Heels, who are flawed offensively — 216th in the country at 43.9% from the field and 325th in 3-point percentage at 30.7 — shot 33.3% for the game and just 2-for-23 (8.7%) from the 3-point line, and trailed 52-51 with under four minutes to play.

What followed was agonizing for the Irish to watch.


A Bacot miss with four minutes to play was followed by a Bacot rebound and missed tip, a team rebound, a missed jumper by RJ Davis, a rebound by Black, a miss by Love and a rebound and miss by Nance, a rebound by Love and then finally a layup by Love.

That’s five offensive rebounds in one possession and it gave the Heels a 53-52 lead with 3:21 to go — the last of 10 lead changes in the game.

The Irish knocked the deficit to one point twice more, the last time with 38 seconds to go on a driving layup by JJ Starling who finished with 10 points.

“I was worried about him because he's been searching a little bit,” Brey said of Starling, who went scoreless in Saturday’s two-point loss to Virginia, “and I thought he really responded well. I think he's responded to not starting, then starting and he's grown up now. I give him a lot of credit because he's really hung in there.”

Notre Dame put up another defensive stand over the final 30 seconds, but twice it couldn’t corral a rebound, the ball slipping out of bounds to return possession to the Heels.

“We had chances with two defensive rebounds,” Brey said. “We couldn’t hold on and come down with them to maybe win the game. But that's who we kind of are ...”

After the two extra chances, the possession ended in two Love free throws for a 61-58 lead with six seconds to go.

Starling was fouled on ND’s possession setting up the same game-ending scenario that occurred in Saturday’s loss to Virginia.

Starling made the first free throw and intentionally missed the second. But unlike Saturday, there was no scrum and tap out for an attempted shot to tie the game or win it.

The miss banged off the rim and went uncontested into Love’s hands who finished off the game with two free throws with three seconds to go.

It was a little different than the first meeting when the Irish fell in Chapel Hill, 81-64, on Jan. 7.


That game was played without Ven-Allen Lubin and the 6-8 freshman made a difference Wednesday with his defense and five rebounds.

But the Irish played the second half without starting guard Marcus Hammond, who had nine first-half points but was injured with 18:27 to go.

“I don't know when Marcus will be back,” Brey said. “It's a sprained toe and I doubt we'll have him Saturday (at Wake Forest, 7 p.m. EST, ACC Network).”

The Irish could have used his semi-hot hand (he was 3-for-5 in the first half) in a game in which they shot 31.3% from both the field and 3-point line.

Trey Wertz picked up some of that slack. He had 13, though he was just 5-for-14 from the field.

It was his first game in double figures since a Jan. 17 game against Florida State.

Cormac Ryan struggled with his shot, too, going 6-for-18, but he finished with a team-high 14 points and seven rebounds. Leading scorer Nate Laszewski (14.7 points a game) never got going and had just four points on 1-for-5 shooting, including 0-for-3 on threes, but led ND with nine rebounds. Dane Goodwin, a 12-point scorer, had just seven.

The Irish, who have lost six straight with five of those losses by a total of 18 points, were 6-for-9 from the free throw line to the Tar Heels’ 15-for-18.

Notre Dame’s halftime lead dissolved quickly as Carolina came out of the break with extra pressure and forced three of Notre Dame’s nine turnovers in the first three minutes of the half. By the 16:40 mark, the Heels had a 32-31 lead.

Box score: North Carolina 63, Notre Dame 59


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